The day after a large snow storm passed through the area in January of 2011, this winter image was captured during a rare moment of incredible natural light on a very cold day at Jump Off Rock in Hendersonville, NC. When we first arrived at the location I noticed that all of the trees were covered in an amazing accumulation of hoarfrost, which is a type of elaborate ice crystals that can form on plants and tree branches only when there are conditions of heavy fog mixed with freezing temperatures. The resulting crystals of ice that form in these conditions look like intricate towers of snowflakes stacked one atop another until they are over an inch tall, each one as unique as a fingerprint.
Unfortunately I wasn’t sure how to best capture this phenomenon at first as the aforementioned fog was quite heavy and there was very little light to work with. As we were waiting to see what conditions might unfold, a small clearing in the fog moved by us right before sundown and let the golden sunlight shine through to backlight the tree against the dark fog, which created a great background of warm light fading into the cold steel blue of the fog surrounding us. While these wonderful lighting conditions lasted less than a minute it was long enough to capture this image for a unique blend of complimentary warm and cool tones. For just that one moment it seemed like fire and ice could coexist beautifully.
I shot this photograph at f/8 with a shutter speed of 1/80th at ISO 200 on a Nikon D700 FX full-frame format camera body which did an excellent job of capturing the wide dynamic range and high contrast of the scene. I used Nikon’s 17-35mm f2.8 wide angle zoom for its wider point of view. This allowed me to incorporate more of the gold-to-blue lighting gradient in the background fog. It was shot handheld as there was plenty of light in the scene to keep shutter speeds up, allowing me to move more quickly during the short window of opportunity. I chose f8 for this image because it is in the “sweet spot” where most lenses produce the sharpest images. The depth of field at f/8 was plenty ‘deep’ to keep everything both near and far in the scene sharp.
Since I was shooting hand-held, I also needed to make sure that shutter speed was fast enough so that blur from movement wouldn’t be an issue. Higher ISO settings can negatively affect image quality, so I always leave mine set as low as possible unless I really need extra shutter speed. In this case ISO 200 was enough and the trade-off between settings was ideal, allowing the shutter speed to be fast enough for handholding the camera while maintaining enough depth of field to keep the whole scene sharp while not sacrificing too much image quality with a higher ISO setting. – Dave Allen